Rains to ease U.S. drought stress but also slow corn seedings

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Rainfall over the next two weeks in the U.S. Plains and Midwest will help ease drought stress on the winter wheat crop but also slow spring fieldwork and early corn plantings, an agricultural meteorologist said on Tuesday.

"It will be good for the Plains but not so good for the Midwest," said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.

Karst said cooler temperatures were keeping soil conditions too cold for corn planting, and rains totaling 0.75 inch to 1.50 inches or more Sunday through Thursday of next week would prevent seedings of the crop in the lower Midwest.

However, "the dry areas of the Plains also will get the rains, which will help," he said. Showers were expected to begin Tuesday and Wednesday in southern Kansas and Oklahoma, with additional rainfall anticipated in the Plains Saturday through early next week, he said.

"Dry areas also will get rain," Karst said. "It should be a beneficial week for the Plains. Some of the crop is damaged beyond repair, but there will be a definite improvement in conditions."

The worst drought in more than 50 years has left the U.S. Plains wheat crop struggling against dry soils. Rains now will help the crop get off to a better start following its break from winter dormancy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its weekly crop progress report released on Monday that 34 percent of the winter wheat crop was in good to excellent condition, down from 58 percent in that category a year ago.

Winter wheat is off to its worst start in early April in 11 years, hobbled by low soil moisture in the southern Plains, even as storms in recent weeks brought precipitation to a few areas.

Corn planting expanded in a few southern states, although soil temperatures in the core states of Iowa and Illinois remain too cold for seeding, the USDA said.

Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Weather Services, said that as of March 23, 6 to 8 inches of rain were needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal in much of eastern Nebraska and a corner of northeast Kansas, while 2 to 4 inches were needed in the balance of the central Plains and western Iowa. Soil moisture levels had returned to normal in an area from eastern Iowa and Missouri eastward.

Recent snowstorms and rainfall have helped diminish drought in the U.S. Plains and other parched areas of the United States, according to a report issued on Thursday.

Eight states continued to have some areas suffering from the worst level of drought, dubbed "exceptional" by the Drought Monitor, a report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists each week. But those areas were shrinking.

(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago and Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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